The Michigan State Spartans captured a share of the Big Ten regular season title with their second win over the Fighting Illini on the season. Illinois was able to keep it close to start the game and only trailed 38-35 at the half.
But Illinois had another second half scoring drought as has become customary for in 2017-18, and the Spartans were able to pull away for a stress free win on Senior Day.
Illinois record is now at 13-16 (3-13) which locks up a below .500 record for the regular season in Brad Underwood’s first season in charge.
Here are some top takeaways from yesterday’s loss.
1. It’s about Jimmy’s and Joe’s
Many problems have been pointed to as a reason for Illinois’ struggles this season. Not having a big man. Inexperience. Installing a new system. Lack of offense. Defensive lapses. These all play a role.
But as we saw against Michigan State last night, the main issue is quite simple. Illinois is not a talented enough basketball team. Illinois played a tremendous first half, but still trailed by five. It was just a matter of time until the Spartans talent — which included two likely NBA lottery picks — took control of the game.
Right now Illinois has two very good players with Leron Black and Trent Frazier, but this season has shown that isn’t enough to win in the Big Ten. Especially not when the talent at other spots is below replacement level.
How many true Big Ten quality players are on this roster? How many players will be able to provide not just minutes, but productive minutes in the future so Illinois can matchup with teams like Michigan State?
Ayo Donsumu coming will give Illinois two really good guards alongside Frazier. Mark Smith may figure out how to play at this level. Maybe Kipper Nichols will stop being so inconsistent. Black is a very effective player, but Illinois needs more this this to be able to compete at the highest level in the conference.
Will Underwood be able to bring in enough talent? That remains to be seen.
2. Leron Black, please don’t leave
Black led Illinois in scoring with 20 points in a very productive 22 minutes of action. He has a great ability to score without needing many touches. He is one of the most efficient players in the country. He deserves to be named to an All-Big Ten team, but probably won’t because of his team’s struggles.
However, I couldn’t shake this terrible thought from my mind while watching the game last night. What if Leron Black transfers?
As a graduate transfer, Black would be immediately eligible to play for a team in 2018-19 if he chooses to leave the Illinois program. I for one would give some thought to leaving and joining a team with a very good chance to make a run to the NCAA Tournament if I were Black, given that he has not been to a single tournament in his four season with the Illini.
This would cripple the Illinois front court for next season, and it would be a devastating blow to Illinois’ chances.
Please tell me I’m just being paranoid.
He’s not leaving. He’s not leaving. He’s not leaving.
Please don’t leave us Leron.
3. Ugly, ugly finishing around the rim
Illinois has struggled with layups and runners around the rim this season, and yesterday was no different. Illinois shot a decent 37.5% from three point range, but only made 30.5% of their two point attempts.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was phenomenal defending the paint with five blocks for Michigan State, but Illinois also put up some terrible, ugly layups. It’s hard to win when you can’t generate many good looks, but it becomes nearly impossible to win when you can’t turn good looks into points effectively.
Add it to the list of things to fix in the summer.